As the NBA playoffs start with the resultant increase in attention, I was reading about the Charlotte Bobcats and their record of 7-59, losing their last 23 games of the season. That sets a record at .106 for the lowest winning percentage in NBA history, eking out the mark of .109 set by the 1972-73 Philadelphia '76ers.
Since I was living in Philadelphia during the 1972-1973 season, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the previous record holder, who ended their season with a record of 9-73. I went to quite a few of those games, and saw first-hand the futility that set the standard for the last 40 years.
The starting center was Leroy Ellis who averaged a double/double for the year with 14 points/10 rebounds per game. Ellis is actually the answer to a great trivia question: “who was the NBA player who played in consecutive years on the team with the most wins in NBA history, and also on the team that had the least wins in NBA history.” In 1972, he was a center on the Los Angeles Lakers who went 69-13 winning the NBA Championship.
They were by a rookie head coach, Roy Rubin, and hurt by the fact that during the previous off season, their star player, the standout Billy Cunningham, jumped to the Carolina Cougars of the competing ABA. They struggled to a record of 4-47 at the mid-season mark. Rubin was replaced by player-coach Kevin Loughery (remember player-coaches?) and he improved the team with a record of 5-26 under his guidance. The general manager was Pat Williams of later fame with the Orlando Magic.
To try to generate enthusiasm with the fans, Pat came up with some interesting promotions, such as the game with the Detroit Pistons, promoted as big feet night (Bob Lanier of the Pistons had size 22 feet, but was not happy when he heard about the event), where the fans with the biggest feet won a prize. There was also the “greased pig” night where fans competed to try to catch, yes, an actual live greased pig. The floor cleanup time after that event was lengthy.
Perhaps the game which most typifies the 76’ers for 1972-1973 was the game on February 3, 1973 against the Boston Celtics before the biggest crowd of the season 6,345 fans. The Celtics that year had Paul Silas (current coach of the Charlotte Bobcats), John Havilcek, Dave Cowens, Don Chaney, Paul Westphal, Jo Jo White, Satch Sanders, and Don Nelson. However, even against this imposing lineup, the 76'ers were up by 3 points with 13 seconds to go, and had possession of the basketball. (This was in the days before there was a 3-point shot in NBA basketball, so this made it a two possession game.)
I cannot remember the details exactly, even though I was there - I might have blocked the painful memory instinctively - but regardless, the Celtics ended up winning 104-100, extending the 76'ers losing streak to 15 games. It could have been one of the biggest upsets in NBA regular-season history, but as so often happened that season, Philadelphia found a way to pull out the loss in the end.